Killing Me Softly, Mister Softee

It lasts twenty-nine seconds. There is an interval of thirteen seconds before it comes on again. Thus, in one minute, I listen to the jingle 1.6 times, give or take a few notes. That’s 1.6 times per minute, every minute–minute after minute–until Mister Softee decides that there are no more cones to be sold.

You might think I am overreacting. After all, how annoying can the jingle from an ice cream truck be in the middle of August when the humidity is as high as the temperature and a walk around the block makes you sweat like a prizefighter? What’s the problem? Go downstairs and buy a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate. Shut up already.

But even going down four flights to the ice cream truck seems like a chore. Maybe it’s the heat, although I don’t really consider it hot. In fact, in the five years that I have been back in New York, I have turned on the air conditioning three or four times, and that was when company was over. I don’t like air conditioning. Not only does it make me freeze everywhere I go (e.g., the office, grocery store, dentist), but Legionnaire’s Disease has broken out again like a Rolling Stones comeback tour. It’s a sign from God.

Picture me in my fourth-floor apartment at the corner of two busy streets with my windows open all summer. I like listening to the rain. I also spend a lot of time working from home: writing, skyping, updating social media, trying not to look at that utterly “a-mazing” thing on Facebook the results of which will shock you. The last a-mazing thing I saw was the 1969 Mets. I prefer to keep it that way.

Maybe I am getting old, becoming more sensitive to things that I used to shrug off years ago. No, forget that. I was always sensitive to little things. But this is not a little thing. Believe me when I tell you that the world is much too noisy, especially here in the Bronx. It is a jack hammer jungle filled with boom-boxes, car alarms, fire engines, ambulances, back-up beeps, Evangelical street preachers, drunks, and an occasional NYPD helicopter. I don’t even like music anymore, not after listening to rap and ranchera music throbbing out of the little Hondas that circle my apartment building like sand sharks.

Mister Softee 1

Years ago when our three girls would come home from school with friends from the basketball, field hockey, volleyball, and softball teams as well as the jazz band, I would retreat to the most secluded spot in the house to do my work. When that didn’t work, I went to a gun shop and bought a pair of ear muffs. I have been wearing ear muffs from the firing range ever since. I take them everywhere I go, even when traveling abroad. People just look at me funny and think I’m French.

Mister Softee has been in the news lately. It seems a rival ice cream company, “Master Softee” (if I had made that up you’d call me a hack), has stolen their ditty, although I have heard the rival’s jingle and it is nothing like Mister Softee’s (thank God). I think it is a calliope arrangement of “Turkey in the Straw.” It’s a big hit in the Bronx.

For five years I tried in vain to discover the name of the Mister Softee song. I was convinced that it was a nursery rhyme and became so obsessed that I would seek out anyone I thought might know. That included an operatic diva and the lead singer of a Queen cover band. No one knew. I became desperate. Then, just the other day waiting to get a haircut in a sub-zero barber shop, I came across the news item you see in the top photo, “Killing me, sez Softee.”

And there it was. The reason I couldn’t find the name of the jingle was because it wasn’t a nursery rhyme at all. An advertising guy had composed it for a radio spot in 1960. It was an E flat, trademarked original. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I think I need a vacation.

For books like The Gringo and Laura FedoraAmazon. Stay tuned for Nine Lives and let me know if you’d like a review copy (“The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives,” Mark Twain). Note to self: Don’t ever tell a crazy person that they’re crazy!

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